Jan. 16--Sounding very much like fraternal twins repeating the same talking points, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges advocated Wednesday for a half-cent, metro-wide sales tax to fund transit, transportation and road improvements.
"I get a lot more complaints about inadequate snow plowing and roads than I do about taxes," said Coleman, addressing a roomful of business owners and constituents.
Hodges said that "it's going to be important that we come together and think regionally about our transit system."
Flanked by professionals from both cities, the mayors met for breakfast at the Town and Country Club on Mississippi River Boulevard in St. Paul. The event was organized by the Minneapolis and St. Paul area chambers of commerce.
The prospect of getting a new sales tax passed during a gubernatorial election year has struck some observers as dubious. All 134 seats in the Minnesota House of Representatives will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Gov. Mark Dayton proposed a half-cent sales tax for transit in 2012, and the proposal passed the Senate but failed in the House.
The mayors said cities across the country are investing in mass transit to stay vibrant, a key selling point as cities compete for talented young workers who are increasingly embracing car-free lifestyles.
Transit also has inspired investment: The Metropolitan Council has tallied more than 100 new construction projects along the Central Corridor light-rail line, or Green Line, representing $1.7 billion in development along the 11-mile route.
St. Paul officials are looking for funding opportunities for a streetcar along Seventh Street, from Randolph Avenue to Arcade Street, and officials on both sides of the river hope to see the metro's public transit system grow.
The mayors touted the importance of early childhood education to prepare future workers for industry, and of closing the "achievement gap" between minority and white students.
After listening to the mayors' speeches, Richfield resident Gerry Vagnone said he was not entirely sold on the prospect of workers ditching their cars in favor of mass transit, given Minnesota's notorious winters and the recent cold snap.
"Who's going to take a bike last Monday or last Tuesday to work?" asked Vagnone, who owns a ProForma Colorwheel logo apparel franchise in Minneapolis.
Coleman was elected to a third four-year term in November, putting him on track to become the second-longest serving mayor in the history of the city after George Latimer, who served 14 years from 1976 to 1990.
Hodges, a former member of the Minneapolis City Council, this month replaced former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who chose not to run for a fourth term.
Frederick Melo can be reached at 651-228-2172. Follow him at twitter.com/FrederickMelo.
Copyright 2014 - Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.